I remember the exact moment I realized my parents were actual human beings. I felt as if a fault line previously unknown to me suddenly split open, spewed lava and wrecked my fourteenth birthday party. I recall this event around the same time every year, basically as soon as people start talking about St. Patrick's Day parties--because that's where the trouble initially started; that trouble being me.
My birthday is the day after Christmas. Most people react to this with a contorted look of pity and some pithy remark about how that must be absolutely terrible for me. I always reply, "I don't know it any other way!" and nervously laugh, mostly because I don't understand the fuss surrounding birthdays. That's probably because as a school-aged child I never had a party on my birthday nor did I receive the recognition most children got on the actual date of their birth (cupcakes for the class, people remembering, etc.). But for my fourteenth birthday my parents were determined to blow the proverbial roof off the house. They concocted a surprise party for me and I was, indeed, surprised. All my friends attended, there was food and soda and my friend Mary made this awesome memory book with pictures and notes from all my friends. I still have it and it's one of my favorite possessions. Everyone did an excellent job and I felt appreciated. Finally, someone gave it up for the most amazing fourteen year old out there: me.
That is, until it all got real.
Bob and Beth were drunk on success and couldn't leave it well enough alone. They'd perhaps fed my teen ego too much and had to bring down the iron fist of childhood embarrassment--by telling me in front of all my friends how and when I was conceived.
"Maura was conceived while we were drunk on St. Patrick's Day! We don't even remember it. That's why her name is Irish! Surprise!"
Surprise birthday indeed. For everyone involved.
That's when I realized my parents were more than just parents. They were people. People who liked to have fun, get a little loose and..."play video games" together. It was a terrifying moment for everyone--everyone except my parents. I'm certain they enjoyed ruining sexual exploration for all the hormonally charged in attendance that night.
My embarrassment eventually abated and I began imagining their life before my siblings and I came barreling into it. Beth claims that as a couple "(they) were boring. He worked all the time," but I've seen enough photos of camping trips and getaways to Europe to see that they had a fair amount of felicitations and libations before their kids came along. I think I got a glimpse of them on my fourteenth birthday party: all human, silly and sexual. It was terrifying. I preferred them as parents. Of course, once you see something you can't unsee it. They were officially humans.
I find myself having startling realizations every once in a while, but this was definitely the first and, understandably, the most disturbing.
That said, each year a few of my friends who attended that party still wish me a happy conception day on St. Patrick's Day. Hey, at least they remember, right?
I don't know.